Mom Wants to Stop the Spanking 'Cycle' She Grew Up With & Is Getting Judged for It


boy crying

How you discipline your kids is a personal choice. Some moms use time-outs, others use strong words and stern conversations, but for many, spanking is a controversial choice. Mom Zuzana Boehmova does not believe in spanking, but recently spoke out about the pressure she gets from her community to spank when she visits her hometown with her two toddlers.

  • The mom shared that she originally grew up in Prague and it was completely normal for parents to spank their children.

    In a personal essay for the New York Times, the mom explained that when she was growing up in the '80s and '90s "I saw countless bare butts getting spanked in playgrounds and parks." 

    Boehmova, however, was rarely spanked herself -- but the few times still impacted her. "I was lucky in that my parents used spanking sparingly," she wrote. "It was understood to be a possibility. For minor offenses, a verbal warning would come first. I knew, and feared, what could come next. Sometimes even a stern stare from my otherwise pretty bohemian dad indicated that clearly."

    But other kids she knew growing up didn't have it as good as she did. Their parents would threaten a smack from a "belt, a fly swatter or a spatula." And she recalled seeing other kids showing up at school with what they called jelito -- "'blood sausage' marks on their behinds the day after the grown-ups around them had applied their parenting methods."

    Even her teacher used an electrical cord to punish her students "which left thin red lines on our hands."

  • Advertisement
  • It was only after a particularly humiliating blow that Boehmova knew the cycle needed to be stopped.

    The mom wrote that she was only 9 years old when it happened. She had been slapped by an adult at school for not eating her soup. "I was so humiliated that I cried with rage over the fickle and unreasonable world of grown-ups," she wrote. That is when she made a promise to herself that she has never broken. 

    "Later that day, I wrote in my diary, in capital letters: I will never ever set a hand on my children when I’m a mom, and neither will anybody else."

  • She's kept her word but when she recently went home to visit Prague, she was surprised by how common spanking still is.

    Boehmova now has two little boys and writes that "with a little under two years separating them, [they] are masters of mischief." And short of hitting their boys, she and her husband try all that they can to discipline them when they get out of hand. But to her family and friends back home, it simply isn't enough. 

    "When I refuse to spank, even progressive Czechs around me seem to believe that I’ve adopted a sort of snotty, New Age-y approach," she wrote. "My father, today a successful self-made businessman, star negotiator and a doting and attentive grandpa, begs me: Just spank them already, and put an end to this misery!"

    He also told her that spanking her children would make her life easier. In one particular incident, her then 1-year-old son waddled over to a power outlet and after warning him to stay away from the socket, her father was frustrated. "See, here?" her told her.  "A smack over the hands. This could have been the teaching moment. It pains me greatly to see how hard you are making your own life.”

    And he isn't the only one who feels this way. "About 63 percent of respondents in a recent Czech survey found corporal punishment acceptable in some cases," the mom wrote. "This is not unlike the United States, where polls show that around 70 percent approve of spanking."

    Though spanking has become less socially acceptable since a study was first conducted in the US in 1986, overall "there hasn’t been much of a difference in the opinions of different age groups [about spanking] in any given year," a report by FiveThirtyEight noted. The biggest differences in who spanks and who doesn't can be more clearly seen across regional, religious, and racial disparities, and not "because younger people are more likely to be anti-spanking."

    In the Czech Republic, Boehmova finds that people hate violence, but will proudly boast that they'd given their child an “educational slap." They view it as "a wholly different thing."
  • However, Boehmova says evidence shows that spanking just doesn't work and that in her own life, it completely ruined how she deals with conflict.

    The mom noted that most experts believe that children "should be able to stop themselves from engaging in inappropriate behavior without the threat of physical punishment." 

    An article published by the American Psychological Association agreed with Boehmova's point. Alan Kazdin, Yale University psychology professor and director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, wrote that “you cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want. There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.” 

    But still, "I get eye rolls," she wrote. 

    "The response usually goes something like this: 'We were punished much more harshly than today’s kids will ever be, and look at us, no trauma, we turned out just fine.' But did we?" she wrote. 

    Boehmova was lucky, she admitted, because she was not hit as often as her peers. But the threat of physical punishment has made her "have a complicated relationship with conflict and confrontation and (...) I struggled to effectively navigate disagreements well into adulthood."

    "I love my parents deeply but, to this day, I feel an irrational pang of fear each time I butt heads with my dad," she continued. 

    And as a parent now, she admitted that she is sometimes "at a loss" with how to deal with her own kids' tantrums. "I draw a blank on how best to react to their tantrums, frustrations or straight-up naughty behavior," she explained. 

    That is why she is speaking out about spanking -- so her children will have better tools to deal with conflict than she did. "If for no other reason, I think we should take spanking off the table so that our children have better tools for dealing with their own children one day," she wrote. "I sincerely hope that navigating the explosive chaos of childhood without a repressive 'firm hand' will help my sons grow up into gentle young men, able to deal constructively and peacefully with life’s inevitable frustrations and conflicts."